30 September 2012

26 September 2012

The Psychology of Resentment

Are you resentful? 

You need not experience extraordinary suffering or be wronged in an unusually grievous way to feel the strong, seemingly unstoppable pull toward resentment. All you need to do is live a little in this fallen world. Before long you're given a good solid reason to resent someone. Often someone quite close to you. Family member, spouse, parent, long-time friend, etc. It feels impossible to love that person.

What causes such bitterness? Why are our hearts so immovably deadened toward that person?

Well, they wronged you, so you resent them. They hurt you. They did what they should never have done. Or didn’t do what they should have done. And you bear the wounds.

Yes—but what’s the reason beneath the reason?

The fundamental reason is your God-given sense of justice—itself a good thing. You have been wronged, and you, created in God’s image and therefore with a rightly functioning sense of justice, of fairness, cry out that justice be done. The playing field must be leveled. Fairness demands it.

The trouble is that as a law-abiding citizen you know you can’t do something physically to them, as you may wish to (let’s just be honest here shall we?). And as a Christian you know you can’t verbally or publicly do something to them (perhaps simply because you would rather keep your reputation and leave them alone than exact revenge and lose your reputation; the greater idol outweighs the lesser).

So what happens? Where does a gospel-vacuous heart go in such a case? Here is what happens: instead of doing something externally to harm them you do something internally to harm them. You harbor bitterness. This is the psychology of resentment. You exercise emotional punishment toward them internally when actual punishment can’t be exercised externally. You set up a law-court in your heart since an actual law-court is unfeasible.

But here’s what happens. The bitterness you harbor, the emotional punishment you exact in your heart, has precisely the opposite effect, over time, than you think. Bitterness does nothing to the offender, while it quietly destroys the offended. Resentment kills, hollows out, the resenter, not the resented.

How then do we conquer bitterness?

By soaking in two realities.

One, God is the judge. He has a law court. A real law-court. And one day every person on the face of the earth who is not in Christ will be the defendant. The Bible even says that Christians one day will themselves assist God in judging the world, even judging the angels (1 Cor 6:2–3). Eventual fairness, justice, righting of wrongs, is gloriously inevitable. Your day of judging your offender is coming. But it is not today. You will take up the gavel. Just not today. If you seek to exact premature judgment, you destroy yourself.

Two, and most crucially, you yourself have offended God. And continue to offend him, in a hundred ways you are conscious of and a thousand you are not, every day. But he didn’t harbor bitterness against you. He didn’t resent you. He sent his Son for you. God decided to lay down every reason to resent you. Having been forgiven this, how in the world could we resent another?

Here's C. S. Lewis, 'On Forgiveness'--
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single person great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life--to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son--how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say our prayers each night 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.' We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse is to refuse God's mercy for ourselves.

25 September 2012

20 September 2012

Happy Are They

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship:
Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. Happy are they who have become Christians in this sense of the word. For them the word of grace has proved a fount of mercy.

19 September 2012

How Jesus Deals With Us

In chapter 11 of Prince Caspian--perhaps my favorite book, though I feel that way about whatever volume on Narnia I'm currently reading--Lucy twice sees Aslan while the others, her three siblings and the dwarf Trumpkin, disbelieve her. She finally convinces them to follow her. Edmund supports her more than anyone, while Susan is (as Lewis would say) perfectly beastly to her. As far as Trumpkin is concerned, talking lions are a ridiculous fairy tale.

The party nevertheless follows Lucy, who in turn follows Aslan and is the only one who can see him. Eventually the lion turns around.
Aslan had stopped and turned and stood facing them, looking so majestic that they felt as glad as anyone can who feels afraid, and as afraid as anyone can who feels glad. The boys strode forward: Lucy made way for them: Susan and the Dwarf shrank back.

"Oh, Aslan," said King Peter, dropping on one knee and raising the Lion's heavy paw to his face, "I'm so glad. And I'm so sorry. I've been leading them wrong ever since we started and especially yesterday morning."

"My dear son," said Aslan.

Then he turned and welcomed Edmund. "Well done," were his words.

Then, after an awful pause, the deep voice said, "Susan." Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying. "You have listened to fears, child," said Aslan. "Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?"

"A little, Aslan," said Susan.

"And now!" said Aslan in a much louder voice with just a hint of roar in it, while his tail lashed his flanks. "And now, where is this little Dwarf, this famous swordsman and archer, who doesn't believe in lions? Come here, son of Earth, come HERE!"--and the last word was no longer the hint of a roar but almost the real thing.

"Wraiths and wreckage!" gasped Trumpkin in the ghost of a voice. The children, who knew Aslan well enough to see that he liked the Dwarf very much, were not disturbed; but it was quite another thing for Trumpkin, who had never seen a lion before, let alone this Lion. He did the only sensible thing he could have done; that is, instead of bolting, he tottered towards Aslan.

Aslan pounced. Have you ever seen a very young kitten being carried in the mother cat's mouth? It was like that. The Dwarf, hunched up in a little, miserable ball, hung from Aslan's mouth. The Lion gave him one shake and all his armour rattled like a tinker's pack and then--hey-presto--the Dwarf flew up in the air. He was as safe as if he had been in bed, though he did not feel so. As he came down the huge velvety paws caught him as gently as a mother's arms and set him (right way up, too) on the ground.

"Son of Earth, shall we be friends?" asked Aslan.

"Ye--he--he--hes," panted the Dwarf, for it had not yet got its breath back.

17 September 2012

Where He Leads

'Do I not say truly, Gandalf,' said Aragorn at last, 'that you could go whithersoever you wished quicker than I? And this I also say: you are our captain and our banner. The Dark Lord has nine. But we have One, mightier than they; the White Rider. He has passed through the fire and the abyss, and they shall fear him. We will go where he leads.'
--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, p. 490

Tolkien captures here almost exactly what the writer to the Hebrews means by the difficult-to-translate Greek word archegos (pioneer, author, leader), referring to Jesus, in Heb 2:10 and 12:2.

15 September 2012

Too Hedonistic

C. S. Lewis, in a 1941 letter to a theology professor at Oxford, alluding to his book The Problem of Pain--
I wasn't writing on the Problem of Pleasure! If I had been you might find my views too hedonistic. I would say that every pleasure (even the lowest) is a likeness to, even, in its restricted mode, a foretaste of, the end for which we exist, the fruition of God. But is it not also, here and now, the road to that fruition for fallen creatures?
--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 2 (HarperCollins, 2004), 463; emphasis original

13 September 2012

Why Did God Create the World?

For his own glory, oh yes!

And how does he glorify himself?

Jonathan Edwards:
The creation of the world seems to have been especially for this end, that the eternal Son of God might obtain a spouse, toward whom he might fully exercise the infinite benevolence of his nature, and to whom he might, as it were, open and pour forth all that immense fountain of condescension, love, and grace that was in his heart, and that in this way God might be glorified. 
--Jonathan Edwards, 'The Church's Marriage to Her Sons, and to Her God,' in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 25: Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758 (ed. Wilson Kimnach; Yale University Press, 2006), 187

'All that immense fountain.'

12 September 2012

Why Are You Addicted?

Mike Wilkerson:
Slaves usually don’t free themselves. Addictions are powerful. . . . There’s a difference between a belief in a higher power as I define it (subjective), and an actual power that’s actually higher and breaks me free from slavery (objective).

True freedom, not only from addictive behavior, but from the underlying sin problem at its root, is only possible through the latter: the resurrected Christ by his Spirit, working powerfully in the hearts and bodies of those he is redeeming from slavery of all kinds, as we respond in belief.

11 September 2012

The Secret to Delighting in God

So much as we see of the love of God, so much shall we delight in him, and no more.

Every other discovery of God, without this, will but make the soul fly from him; but if the heart be once much taken up with this the eminency of the Father’s love, it cannot choose but be overpowered, conquered, and endeared unto him. This, if anything, will work upon us to make our abode with him. If the love of a father will not make a child delight in him, what will?

Put, then, this to the venture: exercise your thoughts upon this very thing, the eternal, free, and fruitful love of the Father, and see if your hearts be not wrought upon to delight in him. I dare boldly say: believers will find it as thriving a course as ever they pitched on in their lives. Sit down a little at the fountain, and you will quickly have a further discovery of the sweetness of the streams. You who have run from him, will not be able, after a while, to keep at a distance for a moment.
--John Owen, Communion with the Triune God (ed. K. Kapic and J. Taylor; Crossway, 2007), 128

HT: Don Jones

08 September 2012

Why We Get Angry

From David Powlison, via Desiring God:

07 September 2012

That Inexhaustible Fountain

All that we receive in time, all the streams that come to our souls, are but so many streams flowing from that inexhaustible fountain, God's electing, God's sovereign, God's distinguishing, God's everlasting love. 
--George Whitefield, 'The Righteousness of Christ an Everlasting Righteousness,' in Lee Gatiss, ed., The Sermons of George Whitefield (2 vols; Crossway, 2012), 1:290